Anatomy of a Player (Taking Shots #2)(14)


by Cindi Madsen

His eyebrows show up.

That’s right. I’m not the girl who falls for smooth lines anymore. Point one to me for breaking his casual demeanor, too. I wanted someone else around, just so I could high five her, and I wasn’t usually the type to participate in hand-slapping gestures.

“I’m actually surprised you own one,” he said. “I assumed you were more of a repressed, one-piece swimsuit girl.”

I gritted my teeth. That stung more than I liked, especially since it only meant that my make-under was a success. “You know what they say about assuming. It makes an ass out of you.”

“And me,” he added.

“Yes. And you again. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got somewhere to be.”

Chapter Ten

Hudson

What the hell? Not that I thought every girl would fall at my feet, but with most girls all I had to do was ask a few questions and get her talking about herself, and after that I was in. I’d thought we’d had a little moment while talking about the Conte Forum. Then I’d asked her about her degree and somehow we’d gone from that to Whitney insulting me.

I probably shouldn’t have made the jab about the swimsuit, but she’d clearly thought she’d gotten one over on me, and I couldn’t have that. No girl slept with a guy she thought of as weak, unless it was a pity fuck, and I definitely didn’t want that.

As I watched her storm away, though, I thought I might’ve bitten off more than I could chew. But that’d never stopped me before, and I wasn’t going to let it stop me now. Not with my prize jersey and my pride on the line. Not to mention that thinking of my next run-in with the girl was doing exactly what I’d hoped it would—keeping me nice and distracted from thinking about everything else.

I might need a new strategy, though. No flirting or innuendo, and lots of killing with kindness. Once I got closer to her, then I’d come on slower—she’d checked me out, I’d seen it, so the interest was there, and I could work with that.

As I started toward my truck, I rehashed the tug of war of emotions that’d played across her face during our conversation. No doubt she was the rule-follower-type, and she’d probably decided flirting with a player crossed ethical boundaries.

But boundaries were made to be broken¸ and I didn’t mind putting a little work into making her cross lines, not when the girl was so entertaining.

I wandered into the bathroom, blinking at the bright light that I was sure I hadn’t left on—I liked it dark, and often didn’t bother turning the lights on until after my shower, when I was more awake. The name and number written in lipstick across the mirror solved the mystery.

I’d stayed on track most of the week—no more drinking and lots of studying. We didn’t have a game until Sunday, though, and the allure of a Friday night out had been too tempting to resist. I’d needed a distraction, and the pretty blonde I’d met at the bar had seemed like the perfect one at the time.

Man, I barely remember her leaving last night. I only had one beer, so I’d passed out from exhaustion, not alcohol. I did remember being relieved that she hadn’t tried to stay or unearth personal details. But now there was her number, so maybe the implication of it being a simple one-night stand hadn’t been strong enough.

I grabbed a wad of tissue paper, but hesitated over the S in Samantha. Maybe the number was more for continuing the no-strings-attached fun than a hope for something deeper…

After a moment of going back and forth, I wiped it off, smearing the name and digits into two messy pink streaks. Repeats weren’t my thing. Relationships were just another form of addiction that gradually made you lose who you were. People claimed they wanted love and companionship, but what they really wanted was to change and control each other. To have a distraction from being alone so they wouldn’t have to take a hard look at themselves. In the name of love, people made stupid decisions and held on to things that were obviously broken—and even hazardous to their health.

Despite seeing how toxic they could be, I’d still attempted two relationships in my life, thinking maybe it didn’t have to go down that way. Big surprise, both times had gone pretty badly, so I’d returned to what I was good at. One and done. No getting in too deep, no wrapping my life up in someone else’s until both of us ended up losing pieces of ourselves.

I turned on the shower, stepping in when the water was nice and hot. For some reason, Reporter Girl popped into my head. Something must be wrong with my brain because I wanted to go head-to-head with her again. A big part of why I’d made the stupid bet with Dane was so that he’d stop hovering and giving me a bad time for not acting like myself.

The fact of the matter was, falling in line and getting good grades was hardly acting like myself. My usual M.O. alternated between lashing out and disengaging entirely. Every few years I switched, thinking the other was better, only to find it didn’t do much good, either. I’d hoped moving away from home would change things, and for a while it had.

Until all the complications hit at once, reminding me who I was.

Without Reporter Girl to distract me, I needed something else to focus on. With my scholarship in jeopardy, I knew it should be my stupid statistics class. I wished school came easy, or that I liked it, but I had to force every bit of information into my head the hard way, with hours of study. Between attending classes and hockey practices and games, I hardly had an hour, much less several.

Which probably meant I didn’t have time for blondes in bars, much less one that’d take so much time and effort. But I was quickly becoming addicted to the way interactions with Whitney pushed everything else to the background, and I figured as far as addictions went, it was on the healthier end of the spectrum. After all, it helped my mental state, which might clear enough space in my brain to actually take in whatever I studied. So, good idea or not, I couldn’t give up the interplay we had going right now.

I’d have to make a game plan for winning her over after today’s study group. If the time I put in there didn’t go well, then I’d have no choice but to try to charm some answers out of the TA, or a girl from my class, or—hell, anyone. As foolish as the pursuit might be, though, I wanted to know the material myself because I’d need it to get through the rest of the classes and earn my degree.

Most of the guys on the hockey team wanted to go pro, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I dreamed of, too. But I’d learned how seldom dreams actually came true, and I wanted a backup plan. I never wanted to be in the position to have to rely on someone else for money ever again—it was a promise I’d made myself years ago, and that meant job options once I graduated, NHL contract or not. I wanted to be paid enough to really make it, too, not simply scrape by.